Ignore the Noise and Get Control of the Signal
When the human system is stressed, destructive and irrational decision making takes place. If we continually react to stimuli on an unconscious level, overcoming obstacles and achieving goals becomes difficult, if not impossible. What’s more, society-at-large becomes at risk if its leadership is not aware of the conditions that create such chaos. How do we tame it? A study by Dartmouth University points out that stress generally comes from four main areas:
1. Environmental factors, such as excessive noise, problems with roommates or neighbors, uncomfortable living space, bad weather, natural disasters, busy traffic, pollution.
2. Social factors, including deadlines, financial problems, group projects, disagreements, demands on time and attention, dating, balancing work and school, loss of a loved one, conflicts with family.
3. Physiological factors, such as adolescence, illness, accidents, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, alcohol or drug use/abuse, sleep disturbances, muscle tension, headaches, upset stomach.
4. Thoughts, including our perception of events, expecting too much from ourselves or others, being perfectionistic, being competitive, making decisions, having a pessimistic attitude, expecting a problem-free life, worrying, being self-critical, making assumptions.
According to Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Dave Grossman, in the book On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace, during World War II 25% of ALL U.S. soldiers admitted to peeing in their pants. 12.5% admitted to pooping their pants. Similar surveys among SWAT and police officers find that this happens much more commonly than reported. In these extreme, life-or-death situations, the final lessons can be learned.
When under stress, the most important thing you can do is find something you can get conscious control over, even when you are in a chaotic environment. Tactical breathing is a technique to control your self-regulated sympathetic (Fight, Flight, Freeze) response. The only two responses of the nervous system that you can control are your breathing rate and blinking of the eyes. Special Ops personnel have to demonstrate tactical breathing in their training by intentionally slowing their heart rate from a stress-induced high to an average resting rate within a few minutes. Why do they do this?
Electrically speaking the heart generates thousands of times more output than the brain. If you want to record somebody’s brain waves, you have to mathematically remove the heartbeat since it is so much larger. If you start to control the rhythm of your breath that will start to change the physiology and you’ll start to become more coherent. When you change that pattern, you’re sending better quality fuel from the heart to the brain, and the entire physiological system will work better. And when the brain works better, you’re more perceptive, you’re more insightful, you’re more clear-thinking, you can understand how to problem-solve. In business, we’re so focused on psychology and tactics that we tend to ignore the fundamental basics of getting into a coherent state.
Why do Fighter Pilots need to control their heart rate? In her time as a fighter pilot, Carey Lohrenz flew missions at the speed of sound. She landed her plane on aircraft carriers, going from 200 miles per hour to a dead stop in about 1.2 seconds - "a controlled crash," Lohrenz called it. She says that, as a pilot, there is just way too much information coming in for it all to be processed perfectly, or even well. When she was flying, there could be three different people speaking to her via radio, all at once. There were over 40 distinct beeps and buzzers that could go off in the cockpit, each indicating something different. She had literally hundreds of knobs and dials to deal with. The setting in which a pilot is more likely to enter an incapacitating condition is after a bailout. Due to the significantly less particular stress inoculation, you are at risk of losing control of your physiologic response in this setting. They use tactical breathing to reassert monitoring of the overwhelming sympathetic response.
Although the actual ideal frequency and duration of the breaths require further research, Dave Grossman teaches a 4x4x4 technique.
- Breath in through the nose for a slow 4-count.
- Hold breath for a slow 4-count.
- Breath out through the mouth for a slow 4-count.
- Hold breath for a slow 4-count.
- Repeat cycle 4 times.
We just think things…but how often do we think about why we think what we think? As we learn to control our physiological and emotional state, we can begin to create better outcomes for ourselves, our communities, our businesses, and our families. Creating a positive, passionate, winning attitude doesn’t guarantee success, but a negative one almost always leads to failure and ensures you will not adapt to challenges and obstacles.